French Court Sword, 18th C.
The French court was a place of turmoil and intrigue. Thanks to the machinations of Louis XIV, Paris had become a renowned city of culture known to some as the “new Rome.” Art, architecture, and money flowed like water, and even noble families that were in decline for some years found themselves immersed in wealth – and their ranks greatly expanded, as the king handed out land and title to his supporters and sycophants. Wealthy merchants wedded their children to the children of old nobility, and so the noble class swelled and became bloated.
Undoubtedly, this expansion of the upper class (and the consequences it had for the lower classes) led to the French Revolution. It also created an environment of competition, conflict, and cut-throat rivalries between nobles new and old fighting over the king’s – and the court’s – favour. For this reason the dueling rapier was adapted into a smaller, more nimble, and more decorative pieces. These swords, known as smallswords or court swords, were a normal component of a noble’s garb, but could also be brought out in a flash to defend one’s honour – or quietly take down a rival.